Cycling west from Desaguadero, several cars stopped to show that La Paz is in the other direction, great, nice to know but we don’t care about La Paz, we want the Altiplano! (We considered it, but cycling into a busy, car-stuffed capital… No me gusta)
The road west quickly turned into a horrible pile of stones, traffic steadily diminishing. One conclusion of our past five days in Bolivia is that the road less travelled is generally the best one. The less effort roadbuilders spent, the better. In other words, it’s really nice to cycle on car trails in the middle of nowhere, less so on the bigger connection roads. Car trails might get annoyingly muddy, but the main gravel ways have washboards which make us seasick, are topped with a layer of sand slowing us down and often get just as muddy anyway. Still can’t complain about having a bridge when there’s rivers to cross…
We started out from Desaguadero with the idea that this whole rainyseason business is not that bad. That idea is rapidly changing though… The past few days we could almost at any time of the day hear and see lightning and storms in the surroundings, usually paired with heavy rainfall. (saw my first real tornado!) The further we progressed, those storms seemed to locate more and more above us. Lightning is tremendously beautiful, but not so cosy when looking for a camping spot on a bare hillside. We got happy every time we saw electricity lines, so the lightning could hit that instead of us. Still, we’re both fine and unstruck. No accidents happened except for getting cold and wet.
In beautiful surroudings, but harsh headwind we made it to Charaña the fifth day. We changed our mindset and are happy with 30km a day, that’s already a heavy push. Charaña is the last village on the Bolivian side of the border with Chile. It looks a bit like a post apocaltptic compound in a war zone. Every house is walled of, some with broken glass on top of the walls.
Doors are metal, not wood, the streets are 4 cars wide, unpaved. Maybe the weather made it look worse than it actually was. In any case, we were starved and got lunch (a good hour before sunset). While eating on the square a borderguard approached us. He had left his station at the border (5 km further) because it was too chilly, so he gave us a stamp right there, with the warning that we had to cross now. Seems legit, glad he saw us. It would have been fun standing around there by the border in the freezing cold. When we reached the other side of the border by sunset we had to knock around on doors to find out where to get the Chilean stamp, nobody seemed to bother that much. We read that we should not smuggle anything into Chile as they check everything meticulously, but I wonder if anyone even noticed we came by bike.
Visviri, the village on the Chilean side is a bit of a disappointment. It’s small, had only an overpriced hostal available with sheepskulls lying around and we were told there’s no food store. Creepy as it was, Charaña suddenly didn’t seem too bad at all. We camped by some ruins, more cosy than the skull-hostal. The next day we found out there are actually two shops and a restaurant, the shop in the restaurant selling tasty bread. On a sunny morning everything seems nicer. One unanswered question though is how we’re supposed to get Chilean pesos. We have only a handful of Bolivianos left with no banks for miles and miles around.